One measure of Paul Taylor's importance as a choreographer is the quality of the younger artists who have broken away from Taylor to found their own companies: Twyla Tharp, Senta Driver and Elizabeth Keen, to name a few of the more prominent.
Keen, a former soloist with Taylor, directed her company of six splendid dancers last night in a program of inventive choreography that will continue at W.P.A. through Saturday.
Keen is a prolific and versatile choreographer, and her work is both intelligent and intensely musical. In "A Fair Greeting," to Brahms' "Theme and Variations," Keen employed a traditional dance vocabulary in fresh and surprising ways. The dancers produced diving, scooping, skipping and swinging movements at high speed without looking rushed, and they moved at times as if they were part of one organism that breathed to the music. Candice Prior stood out as a performer of particular talent and intensity.
"A Fair Greeting" is choreography of a high degree of accomplishment, and if not everything on the program lived up to the promise of this opening work, all managed to surpise or startle or take up their themes from a fresh angle.
"Short Circus," to music by Peter Maxwell Davies, suggested the gestural essence of the circus - the magic, the parade, the elements of grotesquerie and artifice - without crossing the boundary from abstraction into purely representational movement.
Keen is particularly skilful in the manipulation of mood, and adept at presenting ambivalence and artifice. In "poison Variations," the only work on the program to have been performed before in Washington, Keen blended facial expression and acrobatic movements into a fine study of all the subtle and not-so-subtle gradations of malice and insincerity.
The piece is one long, amazing temper tantrum in which historic exaggerations carry gestures of menace into the sphere of the comical, and physical leverage is used to suggest psychological interactions. The dancers seemed to take delight in behaving as badly as possible.
Michael Blue Aiken, a former Latin Ballroom Champion of the United States, could have stepped directly out of a Charles Adam cartoon - he was that sweetly macabre.